On an afternoon in the fall last year, while staying in an apartment for five days in Rome’s centro storico, I walked with my husband to via Due Macelli, visited Catello d’Auria glove shop at number 55, and came away with two pairs of leather gloves. Both cashmere lined, one pair in dark purple, the other in bordeaux. The experience easily ranks as the most memorable retail excursion I have had. The reason for this is simple: Italians take shopping seriously. Elevating window-shopping to an art, they thoughtfully entertain all the many splendors the store windows have on offer. They observe and appreciate and weigh and calculate and reason. Love of display is abundant, and purchases are decidedly made.
Except for the deterrent of living in Los Angeles, where the temperature seldom drops below fifty degrees, I like wearing gloves. I like accessorizing with gloves. I like the elegance a pair of leather gloves lends to a coat or to a dress. I knew in Rome I wanted to buy gloves from a family run shop with a history of catering not only to royalty and stars, but a shop that serves Romans and travelers to the city with equal consideration.
The most remarkable thing you notice as you enter Catello d’Auria is that it hasn’t changed since opening its doors in 1894. Founded by a Neapolitan glove master, the shop remains unaltered, except for the addition of new stock – canvas accessory bags and socks are also for sale. The main attraction, without a doubt, however, are the antique cupboards built into the wall: one hundred twenty-five drawers painted in white, turquoise green and gold, each one housing leather gloves in various colors and sizes. From the ceiling hang five original crystal chandeliers. There is only one large selling counter where you will find the elderly owner, who still runs the shop with her son.
Wall of original 19th century drawers
There is this about approaching the counter: a prospective customer gets the distinct feeling of being sized up. On that afternoon, after confirming that I was indeed there looking for gloves, the owner asked me my hand size. Because during the years spent living in cold climates, I had accumulated several pairs of gloves, all in size seven and a half, I confidently offered up this number. She parried with size seven. Then she took a small satin pillow from behind the counter, presented it to me, and demonstrated how she wanted me to lean forward from the waist and place my elbow squarely on it. Feeling a bit like I was preparing to arm wrestle with an opponent, I did as she asked. It seemed to me the owner’s movements as she served me were ceremonial; she pulled a pair of gloves from one of the antique drawers and tugged it on over my hand – an action she must have repeated many times over the years. The effect was immediate: the size seven glove fit snuggly with no creases. And so, it turns out for all of my adult life, I had been wearing gloves a half size too large.
Of all the memories of those five days in Rome, the most exceptional to me is the satisfaction of the owner in having completed the perfect sale. She expertly helped her customer to find the correct size and colors. This strikes me as the height of a luxurious shopping experience, one that is personalized to the customer’s particular needs. Times have changed. Even in an ancient city like Rome there are many large contemporary chain stores. Yet, the small historic shops still exist, as if in a dream.
Years ago, I was once summed up as a fantasist, an estimate I wasn’t sure I agreed with. Now, after visiting Catello d’Auria and returning to Los Angeles with two pairs of size seven leather gloves, I am not just a fantasist, I am an optimist.
A 19th century cabinet behind the counter
Vintage Giorgio Beverly Hills wool dress with purple Catello d’Auria gloves
Stella McCartney cashmere coat with bordeaux Catello d’Auria gloves